Meaningful Sax

Epic Sax Game has been out for a bit over a day and, wonderfully enough, has found a pretty receptive audience! I thought I should put down some words about what I see the game as being “about” before I forget all about it all and move on to the next project, called (for now) PONGS.

So, as has been the case with past games (notably The Artist Is Present), Epic Sax Game started with the very clear understanding that a game that was somehow based on Epic Sax Guy and his marvelous looping saxophone refrain would be a great thing. A thing that would need to exist in the world. So initially, at least, the idea revolved around a simple game in which you would play the refrain on your keyboard, synched up to the music and while watching some sort of representation of the Sax Guy. I actually first thought of it as looking a bit like the BIT.TRIP games, with the image degrading and improving based on your performance.

However, during actual development various salient details of making the game came up that changed my direction. For one thing, I was super intimidated by the idea of BIT.TRIP like visuals and decided to go for a more straightforward “little pixel dude playing a saxophone”, which was more within my skill set. For another thing, I rather quickly discovered that it was pretty freakin’ hard to play the saxophone refrain. Thus, a moment of crisis. Should I find a way to make it easier/”fairer”, or do I stick to the basics of “one key one note”? Because it was a) easier and b) truer to the spirit of making my games as unapologetic as I can muster, I went with the note-for-note approach. But this led to a new view of the game, it had taken a turn toward musical performance, rather than the idea of a game that you play.

That pretty much changed my view of what I was doing from “funny representation of Epic Sax” to (without trying to sound too pretentious!) a kind of “investigation” of the performance, and providing the player with a way of tapping into that more than just a kind of distanced player-avatar thing. In that way, the idea of the different “levels” of the game came about. The practice mode was necessary just because you needed a free place to just learn the loop (which isn’t easy after all), and it made sense this was Epic Sax Guy practicing at home. From there it was possible to escalate to the Studio and Eurovision and YouTube, while also providing some down time in the Jam Session. However, the game never enforces some idea that you have to play “well” – so you can just play the saxophone any damn way you like in any of the levels, which is an important aspect of performance: there might be a script, but you can step outside it because you have agency.

Ahem.

Anyway, I guess that in short I wanted to say that from a game that was a chuckle about the brilliant Epic Sax Guy meme, I ended up thinking about how a player could be a musical performer (this despite not really knowing a lot about music), and how that related to gameplay and to the sensations/experiences we might have while playing. That was particularly important to me in the Eurovision mode, as I found myself labouring over the stage direction and lighting and choreography to create a situation in which you felt like your performance was important and, yes, epic (again, whether or not you chose to play the official notes). From the comments I’ve seen on the game so far, I think this was actually remarkably successful, so that’s pretty intriguing!

Perhaps more on all this tomorrow, or perhaps something else.

28 March 2012
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